The Daily Experience of Islamophobia in Germany
The sky over the eastern city of Erfurt was bright blue; the windy air was cold. The day, in early March, was a day of celebration for Suleman Malik. The new Ahmadiyya mosque in Erfurt-Marbach finally had a minaret. It towers 9 meters (30 feet) high. It is part of what will be the first new building of a Muslim place of worship on the territory of the former socialist GDR.
A crane was necessary to piece together the five round elements that make up the minaret. Every one of them weighs several tons and they had to be fitted together with utmost precision.
Malik said it took months to contract a crane for such heavy lifting on such muddy ground. He said construction companies that were ready to do the job then backed out again, intimidated by racism, right-wing radicalism, and Islamophobia. The company that finally agreed to take it on, Malik said, contacted him at midnight before work was set to start, asking for cash payment, and insisting that no one film or photograph the building procedure.
Malik speaks fluent German and is the deputy mayor of the district of Erfurt-RiethImage: Christoph Strack/DW
Malik is 34 years old. He has lived in Germany for 18 years. A Muslim born in Pakistan, he now speaks fluent German, works as a personnel consultant, and is the deputy mayor of the district of Erfurt-Rieth. But the building process for the small mosque in a small industrial park was hampered not only by the many building regulations.
Malik has found pig carcasses that had been thrown onto the property. He said often cars drive by with their drivers shouting abuse out of the window. "Protesters" regularly gather on the other side of the street from the building site, for "Catholic prayer services." The premier of the state of Thuringia, where Erfurt is located, Bodo Ramelow, has often been derided on social media for backing the construction project.
On March 15, 2019, a white supremacist killed 51 people and injured about 50 others in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The United Nations has declared March 15 the International Day to Combat Islamophobia.
Nine people were killed in the racist attack in Hanau; the gunman later killed his motherImage: DW/L. Hänel
Germany guarantees freedom of religion in its constitution, the Basic Law. However, according to a survey by the German Council of Experts on Integration and Migration presented in the fall of 2022, one-third to one-half of the 15,000 respondents to the survey expressed anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic attitudes.
Almost every week, damage to property or graffiti at a mosque is reported somewhere in Germany. In February 2020, a 43-year-old white man killed nine people at a shisha bar, a bar and a kiosk and then his other and then himself in the city of Hanau, in the central state of Hesse.
Islamophobia "is a form of misanthropy that has entered the mainstream," Abdassamad El Yazidi, the secretary general of Germany's Central Council of Muslims, told DW. "It has become acceptable and can be expressed openly."
The 47-year-old El Yazidi said Islamophobia was "common in the Bundestag, as well as the state parliaments, for fascists, but increasingly also for representatives of the so-called established democratic parties who are fishing in murky waters aiming to catch votes on the right-wing fringe."
El Yazidi, a native of Hesse, has long been involved in interfaith dialogue. He said Muslims in Germany were "stigmatized." The Central Council, he said, has asked the federal government several times to appoint a commissioner for Muslim life, just as there is a commissioner for Jewish life and a commissioner against antiziganism. "There are very many commissioners, about 35, who fulfill very important functions," El Yazidi said. "But this is being denied to Muslims, with hypocritical arguments." He said people don't want to admit that there is a problem with anti-Muslim racism, "and Muslims feel that."
Such officials exist in other countries and institutions. Canada's head of government, Justin Trudeau, appointed the first commissioner to combat Islamophobia in January. The EU created the post of a coordinator for combating anti-Muslim hostility in 2015.
Abdassamad El Yazidi says Islamophobia sentiment has become acceptable in GermanyImage: picture alliance/AA/A. Hosbas
Open Mosque Day
Malik said he was aware that some Muslims had perpetrated hate crimes in Germany. Eighteen years ago, his father, an established merchant, fled with his family from Pakistan to Germany. The Maliks are Ahmadis, members of the Ahmadiyya, a persecuted Islamic community. Tens of thousands of community members live in Germany; this year they are celebrating "100 years of Ahmadiyya in Germany."
It will take a while to finish the mosque building in Erfurt, especially to design the exterior. "October 3 is Open Mosque Day in Germany," Malik said. "We already want to invite people here then."
There are no plans to have a muezzin call from the minaret, but it will be something like a lighthouse, which should point to the Islamic house of worship.
This article was originally written in German.
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